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(c) the advancement of religion

Published: 20/08/2015
Updated: 20/08/2015

Summary

This purpose involves advancing serious and coherent beliefs in gods or spiritual principles, and in the worship of them.

Organisations can advance religion through activities such as seeking new followers for their systems of belief, helping people to practise their beliefs, raising awareness of their systems of beliefs, and undertaking duties and activities such as missionary and outreach work.

What do we mean by religion?

To be charitable there are a number of features a system of belief must have to be considered a religion: 

  • belief in a god or goddess or a number of gods or goddesses, a supreme being, a divine or transcendental being or entity or spiritual principle (‘supreme being or entity’), on which the system of belief is focused
  • worship or reverence by the individual believer of the supreme being or entity which is the focus of the religion
  • an identifiable positive, moral or ethical framework
  • a level of seriousness, coherence and importance.

Where a system of philosophical belief does not involve belief in a supreme being or entity but has some of the other characteristics listed above, advancing it may still be a charitable purpose under the analogous purpose.  

What activities might provide public benefit when advancing this purpose?

In general, public benefit is the way that a charity makes a positive difference to the public. There are many ways a charity can provide public benefit when advancing religion. These include:

  • providing facilities for public worship
  • holding the appropriate services, rituals and ceremonies open to the public, or providing buildings or other facilities to allow services, rituals and ceremonies to take place raising awareness and understanding of the beliefs or practices of a particular religion, for example by providing books or online materials
  • providing education or instruction in a particular religion
  • undertaking or encouraging missionary, outreach or pastoral work in the community or in places like hospitals and prisons
  • seeking new followers
  • facilitating or undertaking devotional acts such as visiting the sick or dying
  • working to advance public understanding of religion in general.

To provide public benefit under this purpose, the benefit must not be confined to a closed religious order or an inward looking group that excludes the wider community. Where the benefit is restricted to particular groups of people, these conditions must not be unduly restrictive.

When we look at whether conditions on access to benefit are unduly restrictive, the beliefs and doctrines of the religion are relevant. For example, the doctrines of a particular religion may mean that only members of that religion or people of a particular age or gender can attend specific ceremonies, or parts of them. Where such restrictions have a clear basis in the doctrines of the religion and their religious activities it is unlikely that this would be unduly restrictive.

Case 1: an organisation provided clear evidence of public benefit in advancing religion

Summary:
We received an application to become a charity from an order of nuns who intended to re-establish a former convent.

Considerations:
The plans for the convent looked to be very limited, and we were concerned whether the activities would benefit the public or be confined within the convent itself. 

The sisters provided clear evidence with their application that their planned activities focused on the local community. These included providing facilities open to the public for prayer and reflection, and advancing religion through outreach work with children and young people in the area through talks at schools, retreats and seminars.

Outcome:
It was clear that the order intended to provide public benefit in advancing religion. The application to become a charity was successful.

Case 2: an organisations public benefit outweighed it private benefit

Summary:
A small church group based in worshippers’ houses applied to us to be registered as a charity.

Considerations:
The applicant’s intended activities to advance religion were straightforward. However, we had concerns that the salary of the pastor who would lead worship would be a percentage of contributions received from those attending.  We had to make sure that access to the benefit through worship would not be unduly restricted based on a required financial contribution from worshippers.  We also had to examine how the private benefit to the pastor compared with the intended public benefit. 

During the application, the applicants were able to assure us that the contributions were voluntary.  They also showed that they were considering the appointment of a pastor in a way that would make sure any private benefit was incidental to the provision of public benefit.

Outcome:
We found that the group’s intended public benefit would outweigh the private benefit to the pastor, and that access to that benefit was not unduly restrictive based on a financial contribution. The application to become a charity was successful.

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